David O. Russell on Supporting Emerging Young Filmmakers at the Ghetto Film School

Ghetto Film School Table Read at Neuehouse - Adam Shankman, Lance Reddick and David O. Russell - Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Alex J. Berliner/ABImages

"Take a risk, fail, learn from your mistakes or your risk taking, and then do it over again and keep going," was the advice writer and actor Ben Schwartz offered to the young filmmakers at the Ghetto Film School.

David O. Russell, Taika Waititi, Max Greenfield and Emily V. Gordon were among the directors and actors who appeared at the NeueHouse Hollywood on Wednesday Night for a live table read in support of the Ghetto Film School.

The Ghetto Film School is a program designed to help teenagers from diverse backgrounds receive professional film school training, and every year a select group of students are flown to an exotic location to shoot a short film that they have written and produced.

This year’s graduates will be flown to Rome, courtesy of the school’s sponsor, National Geographic.

Russell, who has supported the Ghetto Film School for 15 years, shared with The Hollywood Reporter what he's learned from working with young filmmakers.

"My favorite story is the Fragonard Room at the Frick Museum lives because a 17-year-old Latino from the Bronx who’s gay made a story about love that taught me that the Fragonard Room is about the four stages of love. I’ve walked through that room for 30 years. It just looked like wallpaper to me. So that art only lives today because of that. That to me is the beauty of this."

The evening began with a cocktail hour on the NeueHouse’s rooftop deck where guests sipped champagne and a white rum cocktail called the Buena Sera. The filmmakers and students mixed easily, and Greenfield could be seen going over his script and running lines in preparation for the reading.

Greenfield is a more recent supporter of the Ghetto Film School, and he told THR that he actually gets more nervous doing table reads for them then when he’s doing them professionally.

"These are much more nerve-wracking. There’s a sense when you’re doing them on a weekly basis that you commit on the same level, but you also know that this is a work in progress, you’ll see it the next day and it will change, so there isn’t that one shot to really be great, whereas here you want to give these young filmmakers your best," the actor said.

The actors and filmmakers read two short scripts written by students participating in the program. The students were then given feedback on their work by Hollywood professionals such as director Adam Shankman, Gordon and writer David Stassen.

The reading is just one aspect of the mentoring process, and actor Ben Schwartz shared with THR the best piece of advice he could give the aspiring young filmmakers.

"Take a risk, fail, learn from your mistakes or your risk taking, and then do it over again and keep going. Because there’s so much failure in all of this. You have to fail to get your voice and to try, but it starts with taking a risk and trying and that’s the biggest thing," he said.

The evening ended with an afterparty where guests were served sliders, crostini with mushrooms and vegan crab cakes. Rather than leaving as soon as the reading was done, most of the actors and directors spent additional time with the students. From the smiles on the aspiring filmmakers' faces, this was clearly a highlight of their young careers.